Aquaculture Stewardship Council rejects Tassal's proposal to use seal deterrents

A seal interacting with a Tassal aquaculture operation

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) has rejected a proposal from Cooke subsidiary Tassal that would have allowed it to use “seal crackers” as a deterrent against seal predation.

Seal crackers, or seal “bombs,” are underwater pyrotechnics that are used to deter seals from interacting with ocean net-pen salmon farms by creating a loud bang. The ASC does not allow aquaculture operations to use seal crackers under its certification, but does allow for aquaculture companies to apply for a variance request.

The request for a variance came after environmental groups such as Neighbors of Fish Farming (NOFF) and Tasman Peninsula Marine Protection reported that Tasmania, Australia-based Tassal had used as many as 60,000 seal crackers over the past six years, despite the ASC’s restrictions on the practice.

Tassal asserted the use of the seal crackers was essential to protect both the salmon in its net-pens and farm staff, who risk injury interacting with the large mammals.

“Due to the location of the marine leases, the seals are primarily male. Interaction with a seal of this size poses a significant safety risk to employees working on the marine farms,” Tassal said in its variance application.

In the 12 months spanning October 2022 to October 2023, the company said there were 16 aggressive seal interactions recorded in the company’s safety program.

Tassal said it has other seal mitigation measures in place, but certain farm activities result in higher chances of a negative interaction. 

“There are several onsite farming activities that coincide with increased seal interactions which consequently can lead to a threat to the welfare of the staff or seal. The use of crackers allows employees to mitigate this risk in the most effective and lowest risk of negative impact,” the company said.

Despite Tassal’s argument that the crackers are needed for the safety of both seal and staff, ASC rejected the variance request. According to the organization, Tassal did not present evidence the circumstances it is facing are unique.

“The [variance request] does not present enough credible evidence to support a case for standard adaptation whilst adhering to the intent of the standard,” the ASC said.

Environmental groups celebrated the decision and are now calling for the suspension of Tassal’s ASC certification.

“Now that the ASC has refused Tassal's request for exemption, Tassal is obligated to stop using seal bombs and crackers if they want to retain ASC certification,” Bob Brown Foundation Marine Campaigner Alistair Allan said in a release. "Anything less would show the public that Tassal does not follow ‘world's best practice’ and consumers could no longer have any trust or faith in the ASC certification.”

Photo courtesy of Neighbors of Fish Farming


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